| The IMZ - URal story
The Ural story begins in 1939, during the USSR's pre-World
War II planning. Despite the Molotov/von Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union
knew it would soon be going to war against Adolf Hitler, the ruthless
dictator of the German Third Reich. Joseph Stalin ordered the military
to prepare all areas of operation, including the ground forces that would
defend the Russian motherland against invading German Panzers, ground
troops, and Special Forces. Having seen the effects of the Blitzkrieg
against the Polish Army, mobilization was of paramount importance to the
A meeting was held at the USSR Defense Ministry to discuss what motorcycle
model was most suitable for the Red Army. The Army had wanted to modernize
its equipment after termination of the military conflict with Finland,
as the motorcycles it had been using had not worked satisfactorily. Their
technology was out-dated and the manufacturing quality left much to be
The official version reads that, after long discussion and debate, the
BMW R71 motorcycle was decided to most closely match the Red Army's requirements.
Five units were covertly purchased through intermediaries in neutral Sweden
and smuggled to Russia. Soviet engineers in Moscow busily dismantled the
5 BMWs. They copied every detail of the BMW design and made moulds and
dies to produce their own engines and gearboxes in Moscow. Everything
about the bike was reverse engineered. Early in 1941, the first trial
samples of M-72 motorcycles were shown to Stalin, who immediately approved
production of the motorcycles.
(Incidentally, one of these original BMWs survives and is on display at
the factory museum. Harley-Davidson also copied the BMW design, and delivered
about 1,000 Harley-Davidson XA (Experimental Army) flat-twin shaft drive
motorcycles to the US Army during World War II. Meanwhile, in Japan, Riyushko
was busy copying Harley-Davidson V twins!)
A more likely story is that the BMW factory supplied the construction
drawings and casting moulds. As a result of the Molotov / Ribbentrop Pact,
transfers of technology had taken place in support of their Soviet "friends"
in different areas. Soviet engineers toured German aircraft factories
and brought back complete cannons as samples. The OPEL Kadett was given
to the Soviets just prior to the war; however, it commenced series production
only toward the end of the war as the Moskvitch 400. In 1941, BMW began
series production of R75, and did not resume production of R71. Supplying
the Soviets with the superceded R71 model may have seemed a good idea
at the time.
A factory in Moscow was soon producing hundreds of Russian M-72 sidecar
motorcycles. The Nazi Blitzkrieg was so fast and effective that Soviet
strategists worried that the Moscow factory was within easy range of German
bombers. It was decided to move the motorcycle plant further east, out
of bombing range, into the middle of the resource rich Ural Mountain region.
The chosen site was the small trading town of Irbit, located on the fringe
of the vast Siberian steppes in the Ural Mountains. Irbit had, before
the Revolution of 1917, been an important Trade and Fair center in Russia.
The only substantial building in town was a brewery. It was soon converted
into research and development headquarters, where long hours were spent
preparing for the construction of a massive new production complex for
the M-72. On October 25, 1942, the first M-72s were sent into battle.
Over the course of World War II, 9,799 M-72 motorcycles were delivered
to the front for reconnaissance detachments and mobile troops.
(Shortly after World War II, large hubcaps were produced for a new model
under development. This new model, called the Glock, was never made due
to copyright laws. The hubcaps were eventually donated to nearby zoos,
where they became playthings for the monkeys.)
The history of Ural began with the glory of helping to defeat the terror
of Hitler's armies on the Russian and European battlefields. After World
War II the Factory was renovated, and in 1950, the 30,000th motorcycle
was produced. In the late 1950s, a plant in the Ukraine took over the
manufacture of Urals for military use, and the Irbit Motorcycle Works
(IMZ) began to build Urals for domestic, civilian consumption. The popularity
of the outfits grew steadily among Russians, and in the 1960s, the plant
was turned over to full non-military production.
The export history of URALs started in 1953
The first Urals were exported in 1953,
at first mainly to developing countries. In the late 1960s, deliveries
to developed countries began, and since then more and more Urals have
appeared on the road on every continent. Urals are a unique combination
of price, ageless styling, and sidecar functionality.
In November 1992, the State-owned factory transformed into Uralmoto Joint
Stock Company. Uralmoto was a privatized entity, 40% of which was divided
among management and employees through a grant, 38% of which was sold
by auction with privatization vouchers (which went mostly to management
and employees), and 22% of which was retained by the government.
In early 1998, Ural was bought by private Russian interests; it is no
longer a State-owned company. (Shortly after the purchase, in 2000, the
government shares were redistributed to investors.) New ownership has
brought new management, fresh ideas and production techniques, modernized
design and updated technology, and above all, a commitment to quality
control at all points of production. Ural motorcycles have been given
a new lease on life. While the outward appearance of the engine retains
the look of a classic Ural, quality control techniques and use of better
alloying and casting, better engineering tolerances, better paint and
chrome, make for a stronger, better bike. Everything good and unique about
the old Urals has been maintained, including the inherently balanced design
of a horizontally opposed flat twin engine with roller bearings in a solid
The main bike models built in the plant today are the heavy-duty Ural
sidecar motorcycles, designed with rough Russian roads in mind, and the
custom Wolf. There are many places in Russia where only horses and Ural
motorcycles can be used to transport gear where you need it. Ural motorcycles
are equipped with four-stroke air-cooled flat-twin engines, a four-speed
gearbox with reverse gear, shaft drive, two disc dry clutch, spring shock
absorbers, and drum brakes. New solo and sidecar models have been developed
recently to better suit the tastes of Western markets.
Ural is the only Russian manufacturer of heavy capacity motorcycles, and
one of few manufacturers of sidecar motorcycles in the world. Besides
sales of Ural motorcycles on the Russian market, they have also been exported
to Australia, Britain, the United States, France, the Netherlands, Belgium,
Spain, Greece, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Egypt, Iran, South Africa,
Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and numerous other countries. Over 3.2 million
motorcycles have been delivered since the first M-72 rolled off the production
The future looks bright for Ural, constantly improving its role as versatile
and economical form of transport that is fun to ride and easy to maintain.
The story is far from over.